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Expand local hate crime laws to protect the homeless

June 27, 2018

by Kheven LaGrone

California Penal Code 422.55 defines “hate crime” as a criminal act committed, in whole or in part, because of the victim’s disability, gender, nationality, race or ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation. There are multiple state hate crime laws that provide enhanced penalties for violating the rights of people in one of those protected groups.

Local Oaklanders found Drew and gave him a hand after Jogger Joe (Henry Sintay) threw his belongings into Lake Merritt. – Photo courtesy Kenzie Smith via SF Chronicle

Recently, acts of violence against the homeless have been caught on tape and circulated on the media. They show that cities like San Francisco and Oakland should enact their own local laws adding their homeless citizens to that list of protected groups. This would give the homeless the protection of hate crime laws.

The homeless are not currently a protected group, perhaps, in part, because of the ways many people perceive them and their possessions. Some even believe that harassing the homeless person is justified.

They associate homelessness with crime and believe therefore it should not be protected. They dismiss their possessions as trash that needs to be cleaned up and removed.

They believe that the homeless are lazy and don’t want to work, so they deserve whatever happens to them for sleeping outside. They demand the city “clean up” or eradicate homeless encampments.

These beliefs can become excuses for hurting homeless people. For example, as more people moved to Oakland, many old residents were displaced, became homeless and “camped” at Lake Merritt.

The homeless are not currently a protected group, perhaps, in part, because of the ways many people perceive them and their possessions. Some even believe that harassing the homeless person is justified.

In June 2018, a man nicknamed “Jogger Joe” was videotaped throwing a homeless man’s possessions into Lake Merritt and the trash. He told the cameraman that he was “cleaning up” the lake. Jogger Joe seemed to think that by dehumanizing the homeless man, he was doing a good service to the community. He even invited people to join him.

As the cameraman interviewed him, Jogger Joe responded as if he was to be applauded. Suddenly, he realized the questions were criticizing him. He seemed confused and stopped the interview. He later stole the cell phone that was used to record his interview.

Jogger Joe didn’t throw just a few of Drew’s belongings into the lake. First, he kicked down and dismantled Drew’s camp before drowning everything Drew owns. Going to that much trouble is a sure sign of a hate crime. – Screenshot: JJ Harris

If homeless people had been protected by hate crime laws, Jogger Joe could have been arrested for violating California Penal Code 422.6 which protects against damaging or destroying a protected person’s property. If Jogger Joe had been charged with a hate crime, that would have sent a message to the community that such violence would not be tolerated.

Instead, he was arrested for stealing the phone that was used to record him. His homeless victim was not entitled to protection and money damages California law provides for hate crime victims.

In fact, comments on the Internet show that many people think like Jogger Joe. He was right to think that he would be applauded – not arrested – for committing a hate crime.

Some commenters called him a hero. “Good for him,” someone wrote. Someone else wrote, “The man should be lauded.” Another wrote, “Give the man the citizen of the year award.”

As homelessness become more visible, can we expect more vigilantes like Jogger Joe? Will more homeless citizens be in danger of attacks?

Around the same time as the release of the Jogger Joe tapes, a video was released showing a well-dressed man in San Francisco walking up to a sleeping homeless person and kicking him twice in the face. The man then walked away. The homeless person suffered serious injuries.

Some argue that the homeless do not need special protection because they are not being targeted; they are simply easy prey. They believe that current laws already protect the homeless like everyone else.

As homelessness become more visible, can we expect more vigilantes like Jogger Joe? Will more homeless citizens be in danger of attacks?

The videotapes of homeless people being abused show that these laws may not be protecting the homeless. Current state laws are not sufficient to protect these citizens from violence aimed specifically at them because they are homeless.

Local hate crime laws would show that a city cares about its homeless population enough to try to protect them. This could discourage violence against them.

Local hate crime laws might have deterred Jogger Joe. He might have known that Oakland valued its homeless citizens as well as anyone else; he would have assumed that Oakland did not tolerate violating its homeless citizens. Perhaps, his homeless victim could have qualified for the monetary relief that the state provides to victims of hate crimes.

Local hate crime laws would show that a city cares about its homeless population enough to try to protect them. This could discourage violence against them.

Kheven LaGrone, activist, writer, artist and curator, can be reached at kheven@aol.com. #SFHomelessProject #USHomelessProject

One thought on “Expand local hate crime laws to protect the homeless

  1. ursula reed

    The poor and the homeless need to be protected by law and by the flip side. We need to unite together to stop littering and vandalism. Rich middle income and poor are all part of the community. Be kind to each other we can learn a lot from each other.

    Reply

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